Therefore the Law – Romans 3:19-20

 
I was ordained to the Gospel Ministry thirty-five years ago last Thanksgiving Day. Victory Baptist Church, Wichita Falls, Texas was the ordaining church, and nine men sat on the council. I was as nervous as I had ever been in my life, partially because I didn’t know most of those nine men. Buddy Bryant, my pastor, was the ordination chairman, and E.L. Bynum later preached the charge. I did reasonably well during the interrogation, but there was one question that I completely muffed. I can’t remember who asked, but I’m pretty sure that it was one of the brethren whom I didn’t know. I had previously been asked some questions about salvation from sin, and then there came: “Is the law good or bad?” I was caught over-balanced, leaning toward salvation by grace through faith without the works of the law. “Is the law good or bad?” Without saying, “as far as salvation from sin is concerned,” I simply said that it is not good. Kindly, whoever asked the question replied that Paul said in Romans 7:12 – “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” I passed the test that day, but my score wasn’t 100%, and I was ordained as a Baptist pastor. As far as I know Victory Baptist Church has not regretted in their decision.

With this scripture Paul is going to begin a lengthy study of the law, and it which will extend into chapter 10. From what you might now remember of those scriptures, and in remembering many other statements which he makes in Galatians, Hebrews and other epistles, someone, not thinking very clearly, might say that Paul did NOT have a very high regard for the law. But the fact was Paul that had a VERY high opinion of the law. On the other hand he had a very low regard for the way that sinful men abused and tried to use that law.

For weeks I have been saying that we could substitute the word “Bible” for the word “law” here in Romans. Although that is basically true, it is not always the case, and at this time we need to make a differentiation. In verse two of this chapter Paul spoke of the “oracles of God,” and he didn’t use the word “law.” Elsewhere he speaks of “the scriptures.” “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the SCRIPTURES might have hope.” “All SCRIPTURE is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” The law is certainly a part of the scriptures, but those scriptures include other things beside the law. For example, we read in Acts 12 when Paul and Silas came to Antioch in Pisidia they went into the synagogue and sat down. “And after the reading of the LAW and the PROPHETS the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on. Then Paul stood up, and beckoning with his hand said, Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience.” The Bible marks a difference between “the law” and “the prophets,” and sometimes with the “Psalms.” or the “writings.” And in the next verse here in Romans 3 – we learn that Paul recognized such a difference – “The righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets.”

What Paul says of “the law” in some places relates to all the Bible, including the New Testament. But sometimes, what he says only refers to the laws of the Lord as recorded by Moses. And even more specifically, sometimes Paul refers to God’s moral and universal laws, and at other times he speaks about the ceremonial laws of the Jews.

As an introduction to Paul’s upcoming study of the Mosaic Law, let’s outline the PURPOSE of that law.

About 14 years ago I preached on this subject, and I’ve done it once since that time. But I think that it is well worth considering even more often than every five years. The reason for doing so is because the Law of God is an highly abused and misused subject. It was in Paul’s day and it still is today. I didn’t pull out my notes from the last message, but the outline for the first was something like this: The Law was given to reveal the Holiness of God and the sinfulness of men. The Law shows us the God’s plan for fellowship with Him. It is a line of demarcation between God’s people and the people of the Devil. And then according to the text that I used on that day the “Law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” This morning, I’d like to shorten my outline just a bit, thinking of the PRIMARY purpose of the Law, its SECONDARY purpose, and then its ULTIMATE purpose.

The PRIMARY purpose of the Law is to reveal God – His character, attributes and will.
In chapter one Paul told us that – “The invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that (we are all) without excuse: Because that, when (we) knew God, (we) glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in (our) imaginations, and (our) foolish heart was darkened. Professing (ourselves) to be wise, (we) became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave (us) up.” With sin reducing mankind to not much more than brute beasts, over the centuries we have lost or cast aside our intimate knowledge of the true and living God. We have retained a general knowledge that there must be a God, but we’ve denied just about everything else. And that is why there was such an advantage for the Jews in possessing the oracles of God. That nation no more deserved the blessing of God’s revelation than the Egyptians or the Philistines did, but the Lord was gracious toward Israel by giving them Moses, and to Moses God gave a graphic picture of Himself. From there Moses and Israel were supposed to re-educate the world, but unfortunately they kept their knowledge of the Lord to themselves. And by the way, you and I are now in the shoes of those Jews, having been blessed with even a more complete copy of the oracles of God. If we are not missionary with the Word and with the Gospel, we can expect our grandchildren and great-grandchildren to be as wicked, useless and God-forsaken as the Jews had become.

Basically, the Lord told Moses through the law that He – Jehovah – is only the perfectly holy Being. It also said that as God’s creatures, we are supposed to be like Him. Picture an old wagon wheel four or five feet across. How many spokes are you picturing? Ten, twelve, eight? I hope that all those spokes are running from the hub, to the rim where the wheel touches the ground. Every law of God is like one of the spokes on a wheel. Every one of God’s laws come from the Lord out to where the rubber meets the road – so to speak. And everyone of them run back to the hub – which is the holiness of God. Why shouldn’t we murder people? Because God is holy and man was created in God’s image. The Lord forbade murder people for that reason, and He ordered us to execute murderers for that same reason. Why shouldn’t we lie and deceive people? Because God is holy, and we were created to be like God. God cannot lie, and therefore we should not lie. Why shouldn’t we covet or steal the property of others? Because God is holy, and we should learn to depend upon His wisdom and goodness towards us. We could look at each and every moral law and make the same kind of application.

So the Law is an expression of Jehovah’s holiness and His will. He says in the Law: “this is what I want you to do, and here is the reason why.” Very often parents tell their children to do, or not do, certain things, and those kids can’t figure out why. Sometimes there is time to explain and there are arguments those kids are experienced enough to grasp. But at other times, there is no time, or the situation is beyond their understanding. And in those cases – to have already learned to instantly obey, might just save their lives. And similarly, sometimes the Lord explains to children like us, why we should do, or not do, certain things. But then there are those occasions, when our minds and hearts just refuse to understand. And then the Lord merely says, “For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves …” “For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” The Lord is not obligated to give us specific reasons for His laws. Sometimes He just says, “Do this thing, because I am God, and I am telling you so.” For example, that seems to be what lay behind the very first commandment:“And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”

The law is an expression of God’s holiness and His justice.Justice is the expression of what is morally and ethically right or righteous.And justice is as much a part of God as omnipotence or eternality.God’s law tells us what is right and righteous, and then it tell us what will happen when we fall short of that perfect standard.Moses was waxing poetic in Deuteronomy 32, but he hit the nail on the head.“Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass:Because I will publish the name of the LORD: ascribe ye greatness unto our God. He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.”

The entire Bible is the revelation of God.We see the Lord in His call of Abraham and in His destruction of the world in the days of Noah.We learn about the Lord in the establishment of His Church and, of course, we see Him in the incarnation.But more specifically, we see God reflected in His Law, as if He captured His own image in a digital video.

That brings us to the SECONDARY purpose of the Law.
Twisting what I have just said just a little bit, the Law reveals sin. It stands between us and the eternal God. It says, “Here is the Lord,” and it points upwards to Him. And then it points toward us, showing what failures we are in bearing the image of our Creator. It provides us with a standard against to measure ourselves. And thereby it shows to us how deficient we are when it comes to the holiness of the Lord.

The Law of God is not simply a declaration of what is right and holy. It censures and condemns what is not right and not holy. It defines and illustrates holiness, and by doing so it defines and illustrates what is sin. Then it takes the next step in sentencing the sinner and silencing his protests of self-righteousness. It leaves him without any justification, apology or excuse. Sin is not merely an act of disobedience, it is an attack upon the Person of God. Our first standard is not the Law; our first standard is the character of the Law giver. And the Lord has given us His law because we are so blind and foolish that we can’t see the Lord without the spectacles of the Law.

For example, Proverbs 14:21 says, “He that despiseth his neighbour sinneth.” Here we have one of a great many descriptions of sin – the person who hates his neighbor is a sinner. Don’t avoid the issue by saying that your neighbor is only that man who lives next door. The Pharisees tried to do that with the Lord Jesus, and they heard the Parable of the Good Samaritan. If you hate a man for the color of his skin, or the accent with which he speaks, or the country from which his ancestors, or for his religion, then you are a sinner in the sight of God. And then the rest of Proverbs 14:21 says, “But he that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he.” We have a picture of the Lord acting in mercy, and then we have the sinner described as just the opposite.

James 4:17 – “To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” God is good, and He expects us to do good, but when we fail, we prove ourselves to be sinners. “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” The Law is the revelation of the will and holiness of God, and transgression of that Law is sin. “He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning.” The Lord and the Devil are obviously opposites in person and nature.

In Galatians, Paul deals with this subject of the purpose of the law in great length. In chapter 3 he gets right to the point – “Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator…. Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin…”

Why is the Bible so neglected by our society? Isn’t it because sinners don’t really want to see what they look like? Sure we don’t want to come to the realization that the god we worship is not the true God. But more than that we don’t want to know how ugly and terrible we really are. It’s the purpose of the Bible to do exactly that.

So the oracles of God, and particularly the Law, is a gift from God first to teach us about the Lord, and secondly to teach us about ourselves.

But the ULTIMATE purpose of the law is to prepare the way for the gospel.
A few years ago I tried to teach you a very special and uncommon word, and I hope that you remember it. It is found in the Greek version of Galatians 3:24-25 where it is translated “schoolmaster.” A “pedagogue” in the Roman society was usually an educated slave whose soul purpose in life was to train up the Roman child in the way that he should go in order to please his father. The pedagogue taught that little boy how to read and write; how to add and subtract. He taught him philosophy and how to think; He taught him politics and whatever else his father wanted. And only when that child grew into a young man, having learned all that was required of him, he was formally accepted by the father as his legitimate heir. As you can see there was a tremendous responsibility placed on the shoulders of that schoolmaster. As a slave, his life was only as valuable as his ability to pass on to that child what the father wished.

The Christians of Galatia were being deceived by religious heretics into thinking that the Law was the means of pleasing God. They were being told that if they obeyed the Law as best they could, they would be granted eternal life. It was nothing but lies and impossibilities. Galatians 3:21-24 – “Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster ….” The Law of God is not the sinner’s saviour, and it is not God Himself, but the slave of God – the Father. “The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” The Law reveals the perfect holiness of God, and it clearly shows that we haven’t come up the first rung of the holiness ladder. And if this schoolmaster can teach us those two things, then its ultimate purpose may be reached – we need help – we need a Saviour.

You don’t see this very often any more, but once in while, especially in small towns, you can see a sign that simply says “Hospital.” There are a number of implications in that simple, one-word sign. First, in the days before sound-proofing, for the sake of the sick and suffering, it was urged that people be quiet in the vicinity of an hospital. Second, it hinted, “be careful,” there might be emergency vehicles in the area. And then third it said, “If you are injured, there are doctors nearby.” Let’s say that someone had cut his hand off, and he was bleeding profusely. What if he saw the sign “Hospital,” and he thought that he could get some help there, so he stopped and sat down underneath the sign and waited to be healed? Chances are, he would bleed to death despite the message of the sign and all his good intentions. The sign was only an invitation to come to the physician for the treatment that he needed.

The Law cuts off our hands and feet, our hearts and our pride, and then points us to the Lord Jesus Christ. “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet” – Romans 7. We are justified by faith; we are made whole, not by the law but by the grace of God, who wrote that law. Romans 3:19 – “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins… Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”

The law says that you are a sinner, falling infinitely short of the glory and righteousness of God. It proves that you haven’t got a hope or a prayer at obedience sufficient to make you righteous. It tells you that you need a Saviour, and that Saviour is Christ Jesus, the Son of God. It tells you to repent of your sinful condition and the sins that you have committed. It tells you to put your faith and hope in Christ to redeem you from your sins. Have you done that? Have you repented of your sins and is your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? Will you do that this morning?